There is little doubt in my mind that if I had the proper education or information I would have realized my mother was suffering from dementia sooner.
Anyone who ends up in my shoes learns that a person in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s can function with some normality -- even drive a car.
It is not until their memory is really deteriorating; or, until some "event" takes place, that we wake up to reality.
Persons in an early stage of dementia can still function. They can still do things. This is what throws us off.
Mother's Day weekend is a good time for family and friends to get together and talk about any new and different behaviors they are noticing in an elderly spouse, parent, or friend.
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By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room
My rule of thumb is clear and straight forward.
If you think there is something wrong there probably is something wrong.
Letting it go until things worsen is often a mistake. Waiting usually leads to greater heart ache, stress, and anxiety. Sometimes guilt.
Alzheimer's caregivers understand what I am saying, and what I mean. We have been there.
Here are a few things that come up over and over when talking to Alzheimer's caregivers.
These are behaviors they noticed well before any diagnosis of Alzheimer's or dementia was made.
Problems Walking, with Balance, Gait or Falling
A change in gate or scraping or dragging the feet on the ground may be an early sign that someone has a type of dementia such as Alzheimer's. Research has found physical symptoms, such as problems with walking and balance, are early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
See - Problems with Balance, Walking, Falling an Early Sign of Dementia
Misuse of Money, Credit Cards, or inability to Balance a Checkbook
One of the best things you can do is check and see if a person is paying their bills in a timely fashion. This is especially true with a person who has been good or meticulous at paying bills in the past starts having problems. If they are having problems with bills this is an early sign of dementia.
Out of the ordinary charges on a credit card statement can be a tip off. It is a good idea to look at the credit card statement especially if your loved one is still living at home by themselves.
Inability to locate a check register or out of date check register are usually a sign of a memory problem.
Complaints about the ability to find a wallet or purse. Or, complaints that some is stealing from them.
People in the an early stage of dementia often become worried about their money. This causes them to hide a purse or wallet in the craziest of places. One Alzheimer's caregiver told me she became concerned when she found her mother's purse in the refrigerator.
Constant talk about money, or complaints about money can be a tip off. This is especially true if the person had not been complaining in the past about money.
Issues about money and checkbooks come up frequently when talking to Alzheimer's caregivers about the early signs of Alzheimer's. Many site this as the sign that finally tipped them off that something was wrong.
People in an early stage of dementia are easy targets for criminals and rip-off artists. A simple Google search will yield thousands of examples.
See - Alzheimer's, Money, and the Checkbook
The inability to find a frequently used road. Getting lost while driving to the home of a family member or friend. Getting lost while driving to or from a familiar place. Inability to get home while driving. Accidents.
Any behaviors similar to these could be an early indication of mild cognitive impairment or dementia. The best plan of attack is to get a referral to a geriatric specialist or neurologist. A personal care physician is not the answer. A memory specialist needs to be involved.
See - Driving with Alzheimer's Can Mean Death
Anger, Fear, Paranoia, or Erratic Behavior
If a person starts to evidence mean or angry behavior it could be an early sign of Alzheimer's. This is particularly true if these behaviors are new and different. There is a tendency to assume this is happening because the person is "getting old".
Hallucinations. Complaining about someone looking in the window at night when no one is there. Or, being afraid to go out after dark because it is dangerous.
Hiding things in places that don't make sense like under beds can be a tip off.
Typical hoarding like newspapers or magazines can be a sign of mild cognitive impairment or worse if this is a new and different behavior.
Some early stage dementia sufferers start buying the same things over and over.
For example, many bottles of salad dressing, many tubes of toothpaste, toilet paper or paper towels. Usually children tend to laugh when they see this. The first thought that always comes to mind is -- they are getting old. It can be a sign of impending dementia.
Most of the problems described above can be explained away by saying the person is "getting old".
I made this mistake and now I know thousands of other Alzheimer's caregivers that did the same thing.
Here is an easy question to ask.
What did you have to eat today?
If the person cannot answer this question easily its time to see a memory specialist.
I once asked a friend of my mother what she had for breakfast, she answered ice cream. Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed, after testing, with probable Alzheimer's.
Please add your comments or insights in the comments section below.
Related Articles in the Alzheimer's Reading Room
- Alzheimer's Information and Help
- 10 Things a Person Living with Dementia Would Tell You If They Could
- Communicating in Alzheimer's World
- 10 Symptoms of Early Stage Alzheimer's Disease
- The Seven Stages of Alzheimer's
- What is Alzheimer's Disease